We have just landed in MLS offseason hell. All the drafts (expansion, waiver, re-entry) are over and free agency is underway, but not a lot is likely to happen with Christmas and New Years right around the corner. Especially, since Peter Vermes may very well be on vacation in Florida (I don’t really know, but Instagram has pictures of his daughter on a beach — no comment on why I follow his daughter on IG).
That got us to thinking about what we would ask for from Santa Clause if we could give him a Sporting Kansas City wish list.
Priority #1 — A Designated Player Center Forward
It’s been rumored since right after Sporting KC were eliminated from MLS Cup Playoffs that a better #9 (center forward) and #10 (attacking midfielder) would be brought in based on a Robb Heineman tweet. SKC already signed midfielder Yohan Croizet to a DP level contract. Not a ton is known about Croizet to know if he’s being looked at as an eventual Benny Feilhaber replacement but what is clear is that center forward is still a need.
Now, Diego Rubio didn’t have a bad 2017, just a limited one. As our own Rob Rusert points out, his goals per minute were the third best since 2011 behind only Dom Dwyer’s 22 goal 2014 season and Kei Kamara’s seven goals before he was traded in 2013. While Rubio only had six goals in league play, he simply didn’t get that many minutes after returning from a severe knee injury and being Dwyer’s backup early on.
Despite that, Peter Vermes said the solution to our goal scoring problem isn’t currently on the roster. SKC were linked to Argentinian striker Mauro Boselli early in the offseason. He’s already 32-years-old but he has 105 goals in all competitions since 2013. That’s kind of a stunning amount of goals in five seasons and he’s getting it at a high level of competition most recently in Liga MX. It appears Boselli wants to stay with Leon though, so he’s probably out.
That leaves SKC still looking. It’s entirely possible they find no one and simply go with Rubio as the starter. Many fans will likely consider that a disappointment with all the allocation money available from the Dwyer trade and all the new Targeted Allocation Money the league has injected this offseason. Sporting KC need goals and for a team who often drop their wingers down to play defense, center forward seems like the most likely spot to get them from.
A Bigger Stadium
While this is definitely not something that is likely to be given to us on Christmas, many Sporting Kansas City fans desperately want a larger stadium. SKC have sold out 100+ games in a row but the official stadium capacity of Children’s Mercy Park is just 18,467. Despite that, the team averaged 19,537 fans a game. Over a 1,000 people a game got standing room only tickets.
What many fans would like to see is an announcement to expand the park much like the Portland Timbers announced for Providence Park. The Timbers will add about 4,000 seats for about $50 million. In the past, Sporting KC President Jake Reid has said they won’t expand until the ticket wait list reaches 10,000. As of March of 2017 that list was at 4,500. I live in Arizona, but I just added my name to the list to do my part (you can too). By the time they add it, maybe I’ll live in Missouri again. The team has indicated if they can hit the 10K mark they could add 8,000 seats to the East stand with a new second tier.
An Erik Palmer-Brown Replacement: Part 1
This is a two-fold problem. First, center back depth. As the roster stands right now starters Matt Besler and Ike Opara will return in 2018. EPB was their primary back-up, followed by Kevin Ellis and Amer Didic.
Ellis is on the outs with the team, and though under contract for 2018, has to be considered a likely candidate to be traded (he did block me on twitter, so maybe this is karma). Didic, while promising with SKC, hasn’t played in a league game with only minimal time in the 2016 CONCACAF Champions League to show for himself (which was before he was officially on the roster).
It could be said James Musa can play center back, but he is expected to be Ilie Sanchez’s primary backup at defensive midfielder with the contract option being declined for Soni Mustivar. That leaves the team shopping for center back depth. There is no proven MLS quality depth on the roster as of today if you assume Ellis is gone. There were players available in the Re-Entry Draft but SKC passed on making a selection.
So take out Ellis, add in Musa and basically there are four center backs. One injury or international call-up puts the team critically low of depth. The International career of Matt Besler could be over with a youth movement likely, but Opara just won MLS Defender of the Year and is likely deserving of a call-up. A low priced veteran addition would make everyone sleep a little better for 2018.
An Erik Palmer-Brown Replacement: Part 2
If 1A was losing EPB as a center back, 1B is losing him as a young and talented Homegrown player. SKC have already made moves for 2018 to bring in Homegrown striker Gianluca Busio and Homegrown defender Jaylin Lindsey but one has to wonder if that’s the last of those moves. These two are likely to spend most, if not all, of 2018 with the Swope Park Rangers, but could there be other targets out there as well?
The first that comes to mind if North Carolina University’s Zach Wright. He just concluded his senior season where he helped send his team to the College Cup. He is a forward who would likely be a winger in Sporting KC’s 4-3-3 system. As a senior, he scored four times and added 11 assists for the Tar Heels.
Another option could be Blake Levine from Baker University (where Amer Didic played). He is also a forward who scored 10 goals and added 14 assists in his senior season. According to our own Mike Kuhn, Levine’s 32 goals are the most ever for a SKC Academy player in college.
As for other possible Homegrown targets, look no further than Mike’s “On Campus” updates that keep an incredible amount of detail on the whereabouts and results of SKC Academy players in college. Not to mention, there are other Academy players like Lindsey and Busio we’ve probably never heard of that could be the next surprise signing before they even go to college.
Other Areas of Need
Now this list is far from comprehensive, but simply adding the DP level striker could solve lots of problems. The team may be very close to being complete, but there are plenty of areas that could use long-term upgrades. As of today the starting wingers appear to be Daniel Salloi and Gerso Fernandes. Newly acquired Khiry Shelton is probably first of the bench followed by Kharlton Belmar and Soony Saad. Having another quality winger would go a long way to improving the depth and scoring ability of this team.
The midfield seems pretty set, with six players to fill three spots and decent depth with the addition of Croizet and the return of Jimmy Medranda.
Left back could be seen as an area of need with an aging Seth Sinovic carrying the torch. Medranda seems better suited to the midfield but will still play left back as needed and one has to assume the late season Cristian Lobato experiment at LB could continue.
So this list is far from complete, but another couple moves could really lock up the 2018 roster and return SKC to MLS Cup contenders.
Take to the comments and let us know what you’d ask for from Robb Heineman and Peter Vermes for 2018.